Courts must protect civil rights and liberties: SC

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New Delhi, Feb 26 (UNI) The Supreme Court has ruled that courts must protect and defend the civil rights and liberties of the citizens against the Legislative or Executive invasion of such rights.

A bench comprising Justices H K Sema and Markandey Katju, however, in the judgement pronounced yesterday has also ruled that the judges should exercise restraint while dealing with economic and fiscal statutes.

The Apex Court, while upholding the validity of Section 47A of the Indian Stamp Act as amended by Andhra Pradesh Act VIII of 1998 noted, ''in our opinion, judges should practice great restraint while dealing with economic statutes; they should be activists in defending the civil liberties and rights of the citizens.

This is necessary because, though ordinarily, the Legislature represents the will of the people and works for their welfare. There can be exceptional situations where the Legislature, though elected by the people may violate the civil liberties and rights of the people.

It was because of this foresight that the founding Fathers of the Constitution in their wisdom provided Fundamental Rights in Part III of the Constitution, which were modelled on the lines of the US Bill of Rights of 1791, and the declaration of the rights of man during the great French Revolution of 1789.

The citizens have no civil rights. There was no Freedom of Speech, no equality, no freedom to practice one's own religion, no liberty, etc. There were no Fundamental Rights in the Government of India Act 1935.

The courts are guardians of rights and liberty of the citizen and they will be failing in their responsibities if they abdicate the solemn duty towards the citizen. For this, they may sometime have to declare the Act of Executive or the Legislature as unconstitutional.

It is the solemn duty of the courts to uphold the civil rights and liberties of the citizens against Executive or Legislative invasion, and the court cannot sit quite in this situation but must play an activists role in upholding civil liberties and the fundamental rights in Part III.'' Justice Katju writing the 50-page judgement for the bench noted that in view of the fact that the impugned amendment is an economic measure, whose aim is to plug the loop hole and secure speedy realisation of stamp duty,'' We are of the opinion that the said amendment, being a economic measure cannot be said to be unconstitutional and hence, the appeal of Government of Andhra Pradesh is allowed and the impugned judgement of the State High Court is set aside upholding the constutional validy of amended Section 47A of the Stamp Act.'' The Apex Court in its judgement pronounced on the eve of the presentation of the Budget also observed, ''as regards economic and other regulatory legislation, judicial restraints must be observed by the court and greater latitude must be given to the Legislature because the court does not consist of economic or administrative experts.

It has no expertise in this matter and in this age of specialisation, when policies have to be laid down with great care after consulting the specialists in the field. It will be wholly unwise for the courts to encroach into the domain of the Executive or the Legislative and try to enforce its own views and perception.'' The Apex Court concluded by saying that no progress is possible without granting Fundamental freedom of speech, freedom to write, freedom to think, freedom to experiment, freedom to criticise (including criticism of the Govt) and freedom to dissent.


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